Tim Sturm
Tim Sturm

Ideas Matter

Ideas matter. Your view of the world can have profound consequences on the outcome of your life. In particular, the way you view happiness can't help but determine how your life will proceed. Since happiness has objective requirements, this is a premise well worth checking.

There are different views of what exactly constitutes happiness. Some people believe happiness is a collection of momentary good feelings strewn together. For others, happiness is being better off than the people around you. Still others seeing that happiness cannot exist alongside suffering and misery, believe that happiness is the absence of pain.

It is this last view that I find most disturbing. The consequence of accepting such a view is living a life of avoidance. Instead of pursuing goals and values, you'd spend your life avoiding pain or loss. You'd always look at the negative side, ignoring any potential benefits. You'd live a reactive life, being pushed around by circumstances.

I sometimes use the phrase "waiting to die" to describe the method by which some people live their lives. I refer to those people who passively stumble through life without goals, dreams, or aspirations. These people amuse themselves from day to day, just enough to kill the boredom they might feel. Life to them is a series of distractions. I get the impression of people looking at their watches every few minutes to see if the waiting is almost over. What kind of life is this?

For people living a reactive life, the goal isn't a positive life, but a painless life. They ultimately seek a zero in life. "Waiting to die" is apt. Not that they actively seek death. But to them, life is about "killing time", and just getting through the day or week or decade. The avoidance of pain spurs them to act, but the effects are limited. Instead of seeking pleasure, they merely seek to avoid suffering.

In the reactive life, entertainment is a tool for avoiding of boredom. You watch movies, TV, or go to parties, but not because you enjoy them. You go because the alternative is unpleasant. Instead of seeking activities that bring excitement of fulfillment to your life, you merely seek activities to pass the time.

Similarly, friendships or relationships are a way of staving of loneliness. You marry for security. You work to pay the bills. You start a hobby in order to fulfill your need to "do something". Your whole life revolves around the notion of contentment. Not feeling bad about your life is the primary end which you seek.

A guy I met explained a psychological theory to me. He showed a graph where on one side you had boredom, and on the other you had stress. He then said that people have different thresholds for either. The point of the graph was to show how people live their lives and choose their actions. They avoid doing too little, or they'll get bored. If they did start feeling boredom, they'd pick some activity. But as soon as they do, their stress level would increase. If it got too high, they would slow themselves down. In this way, they bounce back and forth between boredom and stress. This is the reactive life.

Life doesn't have to be like this. There is a different way to live. Instead of merely reacting to outside influences, you can live a purposeful life. You can choose your values, and pursue them. You can expand your choices and enhance your life. You can aim for wonder and excitement.

I am an atheist. I don't believe in a god or an afterlife. I tell you this because it makes me view life in a different way than many people. I believe the life we have now, on this earth, is all that we have. There is nothing more afterwards. If you want happiness, you have to experience it here and now. Nobody can do it for you, and you don't get a second chance.

Ask yourself a question. What is it you live for? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What is it that you look forward to? What excites your soul and makes you feel "This is living!". For some it's the pleasure of discovering something new. For others, it's the successful completion of a personal challenge. For others, it's love. The possibilities are infinite, and life is full of opportunities to experience them.

Living the positive life means seeking those high points in life that we've all experienced. It means aiming big and getting everything out of this life that we can. The highs are everything. They're the only thing that really matters. We live our lives for the splendor and glory, the excitement and the passion.

When this kind of happiness is your goal, you don't fear pain as much. You know that sometimes you may have to risk getting hurt in order to gain. These losses may hurt, but their not the important part of life. They're not what we live for. We live for the best that life has to offer. We live for our successes, our friendships, our loves, our new high-tech gadgets.

So don't fall for the reactive life. Don't settle for contentment. Dream a little. Imagine excitement and adventure. Aim high and accomplish it. Live the life that you've always dreamed of. I know I will.

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